Presented by: Christine Norman
Review written by: Rory O’Brien

Jan Christian Smuts
495.Genl_JC_Smuts (187x270)

Christine travelled to South Africa in 2014 and came across a statue of Jan Smuts in Cape Town. She did some further research and found a somewhat forgotten person of exceptional intellect and achievement in his lifetime. He was born in 1870 into a farming family near Cape Town and after a late start to his education proved to be a top student. He eventually earned a law degree from Cambridge University. He returned to South Africa just before the Boer War and fought for the Transvaal against Britain rising to the rank of General. After the war he became involved in politics and fought on the side of Britain in World War 1, leading forces in victory over the Germans in South West Africa and Tanganyika. He became Prime Minister of South Africa during World War 2 and led South African troops in East Africa (Abyssinia) and North Africa (el Alamein). He became a General rising to Field Marshall in the British Army and was in Churchill’s War Cabinet. After the war he was deposed as Prime Minister and spent his remaining years as Chancellor of Cambridge University, researching his philosophical topic of Holism and writing the Constitution for the United Nations. He died in 1950 at the age of 80 years. King George 6th of Britain described him as a person who had enriched the human race.

Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela in 2008

Nelson Mandela was born in 1918 in the Transkei, Xhosa homeland in South Africa. He became a ward of the Thembu chief when his father died. The chief saw to it that he received a good education eventually attending Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape Province. He ran away to Johannesburg rather than accept an arranged marriage and worked and studied part time eventually earning a law degree. He practised law with Oliver Tambo in Johannesburg. He became involved with the African National Congress in 1942 but became disillusioned with the lack of progress towards majority rule. After the Sharpeville Massacre in which 69 Blacks were killed he embarked on a militant approach forming a subgroup of the ANC called ‘Spear of the Nation’. He led the movement to use strikes and marches to demand equal opportunities for the majority of Blacks. He received military training overseas and was later arrested and charged with Treason. He pleaded guilty and made a political speech at his trial dressed as a Xhosa Chief. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and incarcerated on Robben Island together with other so called ‘terrorists’. There, at what was called ‘Mandela University’ he educated and influenced the other prisoners in peacefully working towards their aims. He was released in 1990 after the ANC was un-banned. After the first fully democratic elections in 1994 he became President of South Africa, at the age of 77 years. In that role he resisted revenge against the Whites and tried to establish peace and reconciliation. He retired after one term in power and assumed a world leadership role. During his life he received over 250 awards including the Nobel Prize for Peace. He died in 2013.

Both Jan Smuts and Nelson Mandela were remarkable South Africans who made considerable impacts during their lifetimes despite emerging from totally different cultural backgrounds.